Statement by Minister Vincent Biruta at UN Environment Champions of the Earth Awards Press Conference09.12.2016
Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme
Ladies and gentlemen
I would like to begin by thanking the United Nations Environment Programme for your tireless leadership in steering the world ever closer towards sustainable development. By recognising the work of truly outstanding individuals and organisations, you give hope to all who strive everyday to protect our home, planet Earth.
I am here to accept the 2016 Champion of the Earth award for Policy Leadership on behalf of President Paul Kagame. Unfortunately he could not be with us due to commitments back at home, and so he asked me to pass on his thanks and express how humbled he feels to be named a Champion of the Earth.
Conservation is an issue very close to the President’s heart and he has made it a top priority to see Rwanda develop in a way that is both sustainable and that brings prosperity to all citizens.
Despite land and population pressures, and ever increasing competition for natural resources, we know that Rwanda’s development can only be sustained if economic development and the environment are not in competition, but rather are mutually reinforcing.
As a result, the Government of Rwanda is putting the environment at the heart of everything we do.
We have enshrined environment protection into our constitution and introduced laws, policies and strategies on green growth, climate resilience, conservation and waste management. We rewrote our Vision 2020 – the country’s guiding policy document – to include sustainability, and updated our economic development plan to ensure green growth and climate change are considered in every major decision.
But even the best-written laws and policies are meaningless without political will and the shared commitment of citizens to be Champions of the Earth in their own communities.
In Rwanda, this commitment includes a plan to restore two million hectares of land by 2020, representing border-to-border restoration and the highest proportional national commitment to the Bonn Challenge.
We have an ambitious goal to cover almost one-third of the country with forests by 2020. To achieve this, we organise an annual Forest Planting Season. This year’s season was launched across the country last Saturday and will see more than 23 million trees planted.
Late last year, we established one of Africa’s newest national parks – Gishwati-Mukura. This ancient rainforest is home to incredible biodiversity that is now being rehabilitated by local communities.
This type of community led conservation has been essential in the protection of the endangered gorillas in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park – now the only great ape species increasing in number.
When communities surrounding the park understood both the environmental and economic benefit of protecting these majestic animals, poachers laid down their snares and became their guardians as trackers and tour guides. Today, eco-tourism is the leading source of income supporting the conservation of the gorillas and their habitat.
And because we know that the efforts of one country alone are not enough to address borderless challenges such as climate change, Rwanda was pleased to host the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in October.
At this meeting the historic Kigali Amendment was passed, which will phase out potent greenhouse gases known as HFCs and avoid up to half a degree Celsius of global warming by the end of the century.
On behalf of President Kagame and the Government of Rwanda, I wish to thank all nations for coming together in the spirit of cooperation to adopt the Kigali Amendment. Our task now is to ratify. I welcome the enthusiasm shown by many to join with Rwanda to ratify at the start of next year and begin implementation immediately.
And so, as we enter the most critical period of environmental action in human history, we are called to inspire everyone around the world to become Champions of the Earth. In doing so, we will secure the bright future that our children and their children deserve.
On behalf of President Kagame, I congratulate all awardees and once again thank the United Nations Environment Programme for this incredible honour.